BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Babies

Parents Take Warning: Antibiotics Can Be Harmful to Infants

Antibiotics are the marvel of modern medicine. They have brought about incredible medical advances, treating bacterial diseases and helping to prolong lifespans in modern times. But a new study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute has shined a light on the potential negative effects antibiotics can have on an infant’s health.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/herebedragons/2573487530

The study, conducted in partnership with a team of Finnish researchers, took monthly fecal samples from 39 children from birth until they were 36 months old and analyzed the sample using standard, RNA sequencing procedure to identify different microbes. During the study, 20 of the children had taken antibiotics for respiratory or ear infections ranging from 9 to 15 treatments over the course of the study. From this data, the researchers could analyze the diversity of the gut microbiome of these participants with respect to their antibiotic usage.

The researchers had chosen to analyze the effect antibiotics have on the gut microbiome in young children because of the pivotal role antibiotics appear to play in human health during early development. Low diversity in the early years of life of this collection of bacteria residing in the intestines has been linked to allergies and autoimmune diseases.

The results of this study show a decrease in the diversity of the microbial gut populations in infants who took antibiotics. This was even more pronounced when the infants were marked with a specific signature low in a bacteria known as Bacteriodes (this decrease in Bacteriodes has been speculated to be linked to Caesarean section births in the past but the researchers found this rationale to be inconclusive as well as another rationale that prolonged breastfeeding led to a stronger gut microbiome with higher levels of Bifidobacteria).

When the infants had taken antibiotics, a single strain of bacteria tended to rule their gut with only a few species surviving. On the whole, the gut microbiomes of these participants were less stable and had higher levels of antibiotic resistant genes.

Don’t get me wrong: antibiotics are an incredible innovation that has saved millions of lives. But, be careful in thinking they are a cure all. They’re side-effects might be more harmful than you think, especially in children.

How does this research change your perception of antibiotics?

 

Infants’ Feces Says a Lot about the Gut Microbiome

Who knew studying babies’ poop can actually lead to amazing discoveries about childbirth, breastfeeding, antibiotics, allergies, and asthma?

That’s exactly what scientists Fredrik Bäckhed and Jovanna Dahlgren at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Wang Jun at the Beijing Genomics Institute-Shenzhen, China recently learned when they conducted a study analyzing feces from 98 Swedish infants.

But before we get into the details of the study, let’s get down the basics first. What exactly is the gut microbiome?

Gut microbiome is the name given to the population of microbiota organisms that live in the human intestine. These microorganisms are unique, not only because there are trillions of them but also because they have milliions of genes, and can function as a person’s identity card (much like a fingerprint or a strand of hair).

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(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fecal_bacteriotherapy#/media/File:E_coli_at_10000x,_original.jpg)

Recently there’s been a lot of buzz in the science world about the gut microbiome because it seems as though it plays various crucial functions, and this study is just one of many. The Swedish and Chinese scientists discovered a few ways in how the gut microbiome affects childbirth, breastfeeding, and development.

There are two ways to give birth: vaginally or via a cesarean section, or C-section. Comparing the feces collected from babies born vaginally and from babies born via C-section, scientists discovered that the feces from the latter contains a significantly less similar microbiome to the microbiome of their mothers.

They also determined that nutrition during the early stages of an infant’s life is a core factor in the development of the gut microbiome.

Our findings surprisingly demonstrated that cessation of breastfeeding, rather than introduction of solid foods, is the major driver in the development of an adult-like microbiota

-Fredrik Bäckhed, lead study author

Bacteria rely on the mother’s milk to grow. Once the bacteria’s access to that milk stops, the bacteria stops growing. In its place, adult-like microorganisms emerge.

In addition, the gut microbiome acts as nutrients and vitamins to the infant’s growth and development, and gives aid to important processes such as making amino acids.

The study also critiques the amount of antibiotics given to babies when they’re born. There’s speculation that the baby’s gut microbiome is negatively impacted by the overabundance and overexposure of antibiotics. Besides the obvious risk of antibiotic resistance, one hypothesis is that when exposed to antibiotics early on, the gut microbiome loses important bacteria that helps immune cells mature. This is believed to be the reason why allergies and asthma are now widely prevalent.

Though this study is just a preliminary, it’s amazing just how big of an effect the gut microbiome has on us, and how much new research is coming out.

Want to learn more about the gut microbiome? Check out other sources about the microbiome, such as it’s relationship on the brain, and how it can change the brain’s function, how it can help reduce weight, and junk food’s negative impact on it, and make sure to comment below!

 

 

Original Article

The Immaculate Conceptions: Smalltooth Sawfish Experiencing Virgin Births

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From Flickr

Chances are you have never heard of the Smalltooth Sawfish, an endangered species most commonly found off the western cost of Florida. These creatures grow to be as long as 25 feet, but their is more that is impressive about these fish than their shockingly large size. Recent studies have shown that around 3% of Smalltooth reproduce asexually, a virgin birth. This is the first hard evidence that birth of parthenogens, offspring born of asexual reproduction, happens in nature. This speaks to the adaptability of life, scientist Demian Chapman, says that it makes sense that endangered species would be the ones most commonly reproducing asexually, “that life finds a way”. This discovery was made when researchers tagged and sampled DNA from around 190 Sawfish, which lead to the discovery of 7 parthenogens.

Scientist hypothesize that during meiosis, sex cells fused together to form offspring. Incredibly, all seven of the parthenogens are fully healthy and functioning, and seem to be viable sexual partners. This “suggests that parthenogens are not a dead end” that this “extreme form of inbreeding” does not lead to any serious defects. Unfortunately, Smalltooth Sawfish are on the verge of extinction due to human interference in their natural habitat. Although the Sawfish are able to reproduce asexually, the occurrence rate is too small to sustain a viable number of Sawfish to save them from extinction, but raising awareness of the issue could be the key to saving these magnificent creatures.

 

Original Article

Sawfish Extinction

More Examples of Parthenogens in Nature

A Baby’s Immune System Might Be Stronger Than We Think

Lymphocyte_activation_simple

Mothers are often extremely protective of their newborn. Most moms are fearful that everything could potentially make their baby sick. Unfortunately though, there is no absolutely sure way to keep a child from getting sick. The immune system plays a huge role in keeping humans well. Two important parts of the immune system are antibodies and memory cells. Antibodies help kill harmful germs while memory cells help the immune system respond quickly to an infection and prevent disease. In fact, recent studies prove that the Immune system of newborn babies are stronger than people previously believed.

Scientists involved in a study led by King’s College London, are reporting that newborn immune T cells can trigger an inflammatory response to bacteria. Originally, it was believed that babies immune systems were immature and therefore couldn’t trigger the same inflammatory response adults normally demonstrate. The team discovered that whilst T cells in newborn babies manufacture a potent anti-bacterial molecule known as IL8. It activates neutrophils to attack the body’s foreign invaders.

In addition, Dr. Deena Gibbons, Lead author in the Department of Immunobiology at King’s College London believes that this “mechanism by which the baby protects itself in the womb from infections of the mother.” Next, she plans to better understand the reasons that there are many differences between the immune cells in newborns and those in adults.

The T Cell activity demonstrated by newborns could be used for future treatments to boost the immune system or neonates in intensive care (place with major risk of infection).

This article is very interesting and important because it is vital to keep newborn babies as healthy and safe as we possibly can. Sometimes it can be as simple as following common measures such as hand washing, avoiding people who are most likely to be sick, snotty noses or hacking coughs. A mother should try to do anything she can to limit the demands placed and a baby’s immune system in the early months to keep her baby healthy.

I chose this article because I know what it is like to be a patient in a Hospital and the precautions that doctors take to prevent further sickness when the immune system is not fully developed or strong.

Image links: 

Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008ISSN 20018762. – Image:Lymphocyte_activation.png

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immune_system

Article: King’s College London. “Immune system of newborn babies stronger than previously thought.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 September 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140921145104.htm>.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140921145104.htm

Other Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immune_system

http://www.wellness.com/reference/allergies/newborn-immune-system

http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/immunity/immune-detail.html

Weak Immune Systems Are Good?

 

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baby_on_Back.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baby_on_Back.jpg

In a recent article published, it is said that baby’s weak immune systems are  good because they let in good bacteria. A recent study suggests that babies are deliberately vulnerable to bacterial infections in the months after birth. This vulnerability allows good microbes to enter the baby’s gut, skin, mouth and lungs. Perhaps we could use this system to treat infections in infants and change the way babies are vaccinated.

To test this theory that the weak immune systems let in good bacteria, scientist Sing Sing Way proposed a experiment. Coming from an infectious-disease background, the pediatrician from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital used mice to test this theory. He compared the immune cells in week-old mice to those in adult mice. The younger mice had a higher proportion of red blood cells. With this, he found that these cells suppress the immune response by making the enzyme arginase. 

Sing Sing Way then gave the young mice antibodies that removed the red blood cells and stopped the production of arginase. When infected with Listeria Monocytogenes the mice’s immune systems fended off the bacterium. However without the arginase, the mice’s intestinal cells became inflamed. Ofer Levy, from Boston Children’s Hospital, concluded that reducing the inflammation must be the body’s reason for initially suppressing the immunity- “If there were no mechanisms to dampen inflammation, the newborn would fall apart”. What do you think of Levy’s conclusion and this new study?

 

 

Don’t Wish for your Baby to Come too Soon!

Premature birth is simply now known as the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 5. Premature birth, according to biologynews.net, is when a child is born prior to 37 weeks.India has a record 3,519,100 premature births, and the United States has 517,400 record births. That is a very scary thought, and it is even scarier that it is our reality. That is even the current storyline on Grey’s Anatomy!

Factually speaking, 15 million babies are born too soon, and 1.1 million of those die very quickly afterward. Those that live, can seriously suffer from “serious infections, cerebral palsy, brain injury, and respiratory, vision, hearing, learning, and developmental problems.”

The Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS) has partnered with Born Too Soon to try to stop premature births. Unfortunately, it is harder than it seems. Craig Rubes, MD, PhD and executive director of GAPPS even said,

“Even if every known intervention was implemented around the world, we would still see 13.8 million preterm births each year; we could only prevent 8 percent.

As a society, we cannot just stop premature births, so global research is being performed daily by NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

This is a picture of a premature baby. As you can see, the baby is hooked up to a ventilator to help with breathing.

Learning to Love

Photo Credit: Victoria Made Flickr

For years, scientists have believed that the nurture and love we receive from our parents when we are an infant, determines how we are when we are older. We learn very early on to trust and love and the relationship you have with your parents when you are a baby can affect relationships you have later in life. For example, researchers say that a mistreated infant may turn argumentative in stressful situations, while nurtured babies tend to deal with stress more skillfully.

Researchers Simpson, Collins, and Salvatore put babies and their mothers in high-tension situations and then years later researched the babies’ relationships. The researchers found that there is a link between the situations babies are put in and the relationship to the mother, and later relationships and stress management. However, they also found that although there is a link, it is not an extremely strong factor. You can learn to love, trust, and throughout your life, even if something traumatic did happen in your infancy.

SALT: Hate it or love it? Either way you can blame your parents.

Some Rights Reserved: www.flickr.com/photos/monkeyc/12276275/

As a salt hater myself, I find it hard to understand why my grandmother pours salt over salads, soups, even “bland” sandwiches. Why she seasons all her food so that it tastes like salt water was always a mystery to me.

So why DO some people like salt while others hate it?

The answer may lie in what parents feed their children between the ages of two months and six months- sometimes unknowingly giving their children food with lots of salt.
According to the study, infants who ate only baby food and other natural foods like fruits and vegetables (all of which contain little or no salt) during their first six months disliked or were indifferent to salty foods by preschool age. On the other hand, the children who had consumed salty foods in infancy preferred salty foods over food without salt. Unfortunately, these children tended to adore unhealthy, salty foods like potato chips, French fries, hot dogs and pretzels.

The good thing about consuming salt is that it is necessary for humans to function properly.
For example, humans need salt to make the digestive acid, hydrochloric acid. Also, oftentimes it is mixed with iodine – another element necessary for human life. In the late 900’s, salt was worth its weight in gold in many African kingdoms simply because it is so vital.

So how much salt is too much?

On average, a person needs to consume about 500 mg
day. However, most americans consume ten times that amount.

We Americans have trouble consuming too much salt. Too much salt can lead to hypertension and heart attacks. Normally, the kidney filters the blood so that excess salt will be released in the urine. However, when people eat huge amounts of salt, some of the excess remains in the bloodstream. For some people, the increased salinity in the blood causes blood pressure to rise to unsafe levels. Unsafe because, as we learned in class, hypertension can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

So, for most babies it is better when the parents stick to low sodium foods, especially since the infants showed no preference for salt at two months, meaning that my grandmother, and other “salt lovers” probably aren’t born with their love of salty foods. Salt “loving” seem to be a behavior that, once moulded between the ages of 2 and 6 months, has lasting effects on that person’s preferences.

 

Main Article: http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/21/health/salt-preferences-determined-early/index.html?hpt=he_t3

I Got it From My Mama . . . and My Papa

Photo Credit: By Me

Ever wonder why Justin Timberlake could belt it out or how come Usain Bolt is so fast? Well the answer’s pretty unexpected, but not too surprising: genetics. Now while genetic prowess is not the sole key to these superstars’ successes, recent studies have shown that certain genes are attributed to superior athletic performance and feel of rhythm.

Recent studies have show that babies are born something called beat induction, the ability to follow a beat. Prior to this study, it was thought that basic music skills like rhythm were solely learned or an offshoot of language. However, scientists were able to study two and three-day-old babies’ reactions to changes in rhythms and they found that babies brains experienced  a momentary disturbance, known as a mismatch negativity (caused by the failure of an expected stimuli to occur), when the beat changed. It was impossible that the newborns could have learned beat induction in a few days, so it was obvious that it is an ability passed down genetically. Beat induction is a relatively new genetic trait , one only found in humans; even our closest primate relatives do not have this skill. It is even thought that beat induction may have been an adaptation gained to help humans with conversational communication.

Geneticists have been doing more and more groundbreaking research about the connection between inherited traits that may cause offspring to be more athletic or suited for competition at a higher level. For example, in 2003 Australian geneticists identified a gene called Actinen A (ACTN3), which codes for a protein that helps build fast-twitching muscles and muscle fibers that move with greater force, thus speeding up leg movement. The more fast twitching muscles an athlete has, the better they are at burst energy sports like sprinting, football, and baseball. Recent reports show that 70% of Jamaicans have the ACTN3 gene, which could explain Jamaican sprinters like Usain Bolt’s success at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Similarly, Olympic swimming champion, Michael Phelps, may have also inherited advantages for movement in the water. Phelps has many characteristics commonly attributed to Marfan Syndrome. Marfan Syndrom is a connective tissue disorder that strengthens the body’s structures and could possibly explain how Phelps swims faster than any other human being. Researchers are also currently studying the gene which codes for slow-twitch muscle fibers that are advantageous for endurance sports. By identifying these genetically inherited advantages could radically change athletic competition, allowing athletes to create specific training regiments beneficial to their unique genetic composition.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So research tells us that both beat induction (musical rhythm)  and athletic prowess can be inherited, but the question is how crucial are these inherited traits to success in a given field? What other factors like environment, mentality, mental endurance, or determination play into the molding of a virtuoso or olympian? What really makes a superstar a superstar?

 

For more:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/01/babybeats/

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/08/jamaican-sprint/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%253A+wiredscience+%2528Blog+-+Wired+Science%2529

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/12/a-gene-test-of/

http://sports.yahoo.com/top/news?slug=ycn-10259115

http://www.genetic-future.com/2008/08/gene-for-jamaican-sprinting-success-no.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110718121555.htm

Bilingual Babies?

Everyone learns to speak one language from their parents when they are young. But when they get older they have to take classes to relearn a second language. This isn’t easy and people spend most of their elementary school life trying to learn the basics. Learning a second language in today’s world is very useful because so many people travel to different countries for business and there is not one main language yet. The question of should parents teach their children two languages when they are babies or shouldn’t they has been a question for a long time. The trouble is that it is very hard to see when babies actually start learning to understand languages. Antoher worry with teaching babies two languages is that they will become confused with both languages. Researchers have begun to use Electroencephalography (EEG) on babies to see if their brains were even recongnizing words from different languages.

In a recent New York Times article, one group of researchers from the University of Washington used babies between the ages of 6 and 12 months from both monolingual and bilingual families. They found that all monolingual babies were able to recognize different phonetic sounds regardless of what language it was. But the monolingual babies who were 10 to 12 months old only registered sounds from the language spoken at home and had no recognition of the second language. The bilingual babies recognized sounds from both languages but couldn’t differentiate between them from ages 6 to 9 months, but from 10 to 12 months old the bilingual babies were able to discriminate sounds from both languages. In a different recent study researches from the University of British Columbia studied newborn babies and found that newborn babies had preferences for whatever language or languages their mothers spoke while pregnant. Other research has shown that bilingual babies are also able to “learn different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking.”

So if you ever have a baby, make sure that you expose it to two languages to make it an adorable genius!

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